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Strengthening SWA engagement in the Pacific

Clare Battle, WaterAid
12 Feb 2020

As the number of SWA partners in the Pacific continues to grow, Clare Battle from WaterAid reflects on why scaling up our engagement in the region is so important.

Since its inception nearly a decade ago, SWA’s geographical scope has grown steadily, moving beyond an initial foundation in Africa and Asia to bring in new partners in Latin America and beyond.  And yet to date, the voices of sector stakeholders in the Pacific – and the issues and challenges they face – remain largely unheard in global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) discussions. As SWA continues to grow and evolve, addressing this gap will be of critical importance for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the absence of Pacific voices represents a stark challenge to our collective commitment to ‘leave no one behind’.

In 2017 the proportion of people with access to at least basic water and sanitation services in Oceania stood at 55.07% and 30.30% respectively – lower than any other SDG region. Papua New Guinea – one of SWA’s newest members – is among the bottom five countries in the world for both water and sanitation access and faces enormous challenges in putting in place the building blocks of an effective sector.

More worrying still, there have been few signs of progress over the last 15 years; in fact, Oceania has the unwelcome distinction of being the only region in the world where sanitation access is going backwards. Efforts to improve sector performance face a convergence of challenges, not least highly dispersed populations, vast distances between countries and islands, and cultural differences. Going forward, these challenges will be further exacerbated by factors that include climate change, population growth, urbanisation, and a limited capacity for economic growth.

Secondly, the Pacific’s unparalleled leadership on climate change gives the region a powerful voice and moral credibility that will make it a vital ally as SWA strives to highlight the important links between WASH and climate change. The region has not only demonstrated a breadth and depth of political leadership on climate diplomacy but has also been a pioneer in attracting and utilising climate finance. So far, 80% of GCF funding for WASH Programmes has gone to small island states. As SWA seeks to highlight the importance of climate resilient delivery systems and foster stronger connections with climate discussions and fora, increased engagement with both national stakeholders and regional political processes in the Pacific will be an important consideration.

Fortunately, there are promising signs. In March 2019, UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional office organised an SWA workshop in Bangkok that brought together representatives from Fiji and Papua New Guinea (among others), and PNG  became an official SWA partner just this month. It’s also clear that WaterAid is not alone in seeking to strengthen our collaboration in the Pacific; other SWA partners such as Australia (DFAT) and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) are also exploring how to step-up their engagement, and the World Bank is tripling its investments in the region. SWA can play a vital role in bringing these individual efforts together to drive a renewed global partnership in support of progress in the Pacific and ensuring the elevation of Pacific voices as we work towards our collective vision of water, sanitation and hygiene for all.